When Bill Clinton came back for his portrait unveiling, Bush lauded him for "the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president." This after he ran for the presidency to "restore honor and dignity" after Clinton's sex scandal.
And when Clinton welcomed back George H.W. Bush, whom he had defeated, he said to him and his wife: "Welcome home. We're glad to have you here."
Obama has enlisted Bush's help on earthquake relief for Haiti, and the two stood together in New York City last year in marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on America. They have also spoken at least three times at signature moments over the last three years, including the killing of Osama bin Laden — a point Obama made Thursday during the East Room ceremony.
The White House points out that Obama praises Bush sometimes, too, such as for taking on illegal immigration.
The visit was layered with political story lines.
Bush's brother Jeb is a potential vice presidential candidate to Romney. Bush's father has developed a kinship of sorts with Obama. And then there is Bush himself, who has endorsed Romney but is still viewed by many in his party as politically toxic.
More than any president in recent memory, Bush has not just intentionally faded from the public spotlight but all but disappeared from it.
Bush was last at the White House in January 2010 to help out with Haiti humanitarian relief.
AP News Researcher Julie Reed Bell and Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
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